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Hallelujah! Do-It-Yourself Messiah brings community together

Handel's 'The Messiah' is holiday favorite for bringing together singers all age skill levels. | Sun-Times MediFile

Handel's 'The Messiah' is a holiday favorite for bringing together singers of all age and skill levels. | Sun-Times Media File

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Updated: January 18, 2013 6:09AM

The trouble started late in “And He Shall Purify,” the second chorus of Handel’s oratorio “The Messiah.”

First the tenor section lost its place in a long run of sixteenth notes. Confused, many of the sopranos missed their entrance, which threw off the altos, making them lose track of their own sixteenth-note run and messing up the bass section’s entrance cue.

Finally, all the singers trailed off, leaving the organist and string quintet to finish the last phrase of the piece.

That mishap would have ruined a formal concert for both the singers and the audience. But in the second annual Do-It-Yourself Messiah presented this month at Batavia High School, the audience members — who also were the singers — simply chuckled and moved on, still enjoying every note.

“Part of the fun of this event is that it doesn’t matter what it sounds like,” observed tenor soloist Gregor King before the concert.

“The point is to come together and share this music that inspires us all.”

Nearly 300 people came to share the experience, which raised money for Batavia S.T.A.G.E, a nonprofit group that supports the theater programs at Rotolo Middle School and Batavia High School.

Though not all of them sang, they divided themselves into sections marked on the main floor seats, while organist Lee McGinty; soloists King, Ingrid Burrichter, Debby Wilder and Antonio Quaranta; and a quintet from the Metropolis Orchestra of Chicago shared the stage. Recently retired Batavia High School band director John Heath directed the performance.

“Performing for John Heath is huge,” said King, a Batavia High School alumnus who now teaches music and French at Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove. “I never got to sing for him when I was in school, but everybody in the school and the community loves him. That man embodies Batavia.”

Heath said he was grateful for the chance to return to the Batavia Fine Arts Centre’s theater, which opened during his last year working for the Batavia School District, as well as for the chance to lead “The Messiah.”

“I’ve done ‘The Messiah’ many times as a vocalist and several times as an instrumentalist. I’ve never approached it as a conductor before,” he commented.

Many audience members could also boast of being “Messiah” veterans.

“My group did ‘The Messiah’ 25 years in a row in Aurora with Lucille Halfvarsen,” said Aurora resident Gyda Stoner, who came with three other members of the Calvary Episcopal Church choir. “Singing it here is bringing back wonderful memories.”

“I’ve done a ‘do-it-yourself-Messiah’ once before, and I’ve sung parts of it in my church choir, so I’m pretty comfortable singing it here,” noted alto Nancy Tweed of Geneva.

“There are lots of solos, and the music isn’t that hard to follow. But I hope there are some good altos sitting behind me.”

Others were performing the choruses for the first time, while a few audience members were sight-reading their parts. “This is my first time singing ‘The Messiah’,” Naperville resident Chris Prior said, a little nervously. “I thought it would be a good outing and a wonderful way to get into the Christmas spirit.”

Everyone was deeply into the “Messiah” spirit by the time they reached the famous “Hallelujah” chorus, which the crowd belted out joyously. By the time Heath had finished leading everyone in an encore performance of Christmas carols, people were smiling, hugging and loudly applauding the musicians on stage as well as each other.

“This is something Batavia can come together on,” King said. “Until you do something like this, bringing music into the season, it doesn’t really feel like Christmas.”

Denise Linke is a correspondent for The Beacon-News.

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